The Genesis and Evolution of Presidents’ Day


Mount Rushmore in South Dakota serves as a physical representation of the accomplishments of past presidents. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln are put on display for the public to appreciate their great endeavors, those of which Presidents’ Day is dedicated to.

Jackeline Fernandes, Staff Writer

Many Americans use Presidents’ Day to take advantage of the three-day weekend and occasional retail sale.  However, not enough Schreiber students are aware of the genesis of the day in the nation’s presidents’ honor.  The holiday falls on the third Monday of February around President George Washington’s birthday, Feb. 22.  This year Presidents’ Day will fall on Feb. 18.

“Many of us don’t fully understand why we celebrate the holiday and just think of it as another ‘no school day.’  It’s important to really know what it’s about to appreciate how we evolved as a nation because of what our past presidents did for us,” said junior Victoria Kefalas.  

As the first president of the United States in 1789, George Washington was in charge of executing the provisions of the then newly-ratified Constitution.  During his presidency, Washington motivated lasting precedents by appointing Cabinet members within the executive branch, establishing the norms of the two-term presidency, having dinner parties in the White House, and delivering a farewell address at the end of his administration.

“Washington’s leadership skills were recognizable before he was even president due to his leadership in the American Revolution, and, as the country’s first president, he helped implement the foundation of [the American republican] democracy,” said junior Stephanie Kapsalis.

Congress founded a holiday in Washington’s honor in 1879, nearly 80 years after his death.  Named Washington’s Birthday, the holiday fell on Feb. 22 and was the first federal holiday to honor an American president.

In 1968, Congress used the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, a law that allowed Congress to shift the commemorations of certain holidays to Mondays to give Americans more three-day weekends and to move the federal holiday to the third Monday in February.

This now placed the holiday in between Feb. 15 and Feb. 21, making the original name “Washington’s Birthday” a misnomer as it would never occur on his actual birthday.

As a result, it started to be called Presidents’ Day to also honor the 16th POTUS Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday falls on Feb. 12.  Lincoln is most well-known among Americans for spearheading the effort to abolish slavery.  In 1863, he used his powers as Commander in Chief to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, and outlawed slavery in the Union.  That way, once the Civil War ended in 1865, all states in the Union would have to abolish slavery. 

Today, Presidents’ Day is recognized mainly as a celebration of all the great presidents of U.S. history.  Essentially, what started out as a holiday for one president has become a day to recognize the accomplishments of past and present American presidents.

“It’s important to have a day to celebrate the leaders that brought our nation to what it is now,” said junior Micah Golan.  “I enjoy celebrating Presidents’ Day to honor the greatest U.S presidents and to honor my favorite president, Theodore Roosevelt, as well.”   

This Presidents’ Day, it’s time to recognize some of the greatest U.S. presidents. It isn’t a simple task to lead a country, so it is important to appreciate and reflect upon the great leadership and achievements that have existed in the oval office.

In the words of President John F. Kennedy, “Effort and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.”

It takes great skill to successfully steer a country as complex as the United States, and, for that, the presidents should receive the honor and respect they deserve this February.